The Roots of Ritvik-vada


Oct 01, 2017 — CANADA (SUN) —

We recently published a document entitled, "Proposed Topics of Discussion for 1979 Mayapura Meeting", being a letter from Yasodanandana (then) Swami to Satsvarupa Gosvami. The document serves as a very interesting historical footprint, for several reasons. Obviously, it provides an important 'laundry list' of topics that were understood to be of real significance in January 1979. We can see that a great many of these items later developed into serious problems for ISKCON, and some of the problems are ongoing today, or are at the root of problems existing today.

Also interesting is item #6 on page 2, "Discussion of the meaning of the word acarya and the difference between rtvik acarya and sampradaya acarya".

But of greatest interest, and the subject of today's commentary, is item #13 on page 2:

    "13. Reason and nature of the appointment of the 11 diksa gurus (see #3)

      a. ref. letter dated July 9, 1977
      b. subsequent statements by Srila Prabhupada"

The author doesn't say what "subsequent statements" he's referring to, nor does he mention any prior statements by Srila Prabhupada that he thinks relate to the 11 appointed diksa gurus. But what is very clearly communicated throughout the document is that Yasodanandana accepted the fact that the July 9th Letter instructed the appointment of 11 diksa gurus, who were to be initiating their own disciples – not direct disciples of His Divine Grace via post-samadhi ritvik diksa initiation.

Many times over the last forty years, devotees have discussed the origination of Ritvik-vada in ISKCON, and the question has been asked: exactly when, why, and via what recorded statements did Yasodanandana dasa make himself known to be a leading proponent of Ritvik-vada? The role of Yasodanandana is of particular interest because he wrote, co-wrote, and/or propagated the bulk of papers and philosophical manifestos that rallied the disenfranchised devotees who would become the early adherents of Ritvik-vada.

We have written in the past about the circa 1994-95 discussions between Yasodanandana dasa and Rocana dasa, and how the two abruptly parted ways early on in their guru-tattva debates, when Rocana rejected Yasodanandana's post-samadhi ritvik diksa thesis. Later, in his 2003 paper, "The Church of Ritvik", Rocana dasa gave this brief historical sketch of the origins of the Ritvik movement:

    "This hypothesis [Ritvik-vada] originated from the person of Yasoda nandana dasa, who is one of the founding members of a loosely organized underground movement started in the late 1970's, aiming protest at the GBC/Zonal Acaryas. Most of the intellectuals who formed the inner circle of this cell were unceremoniously excommunicated from ISKCON for publicly voicing their subversive ideas. To the best of my knowledge, the membership included Pradyumna dasa, Jadurani devi dasi, Kailasa candra dasa,[*] and Yasoda nandanana dasa. This school of radical thought wrote, printed and circulated many confrontational tracts in the early days, with limited results. Initially, they did not try to promote the return of the Rtvik process, but rather focused on the advanced spiritual qualifications required to become a bonafide diksa guru. These were qualities the Zonal Acaryas sadly lacked. Naturally, the Zonals' policy of exaggerated glorification and their self-anointed honorific titles incited the disgust and outrage of this early protest group. The sastric definitions for diksa set forth by this group were so unattainable by Kaliyuga Westerners that Srila Prabhupada was the only ISKCON related personality who unquestionably qualified. It was this train of thought that naturally evolved into the post-samadhi diksa concept. The group's need for supporting documental evidence required a re-interpretation of the same July 9th letter the Zonals had previously highlighted as their authorization to take unfettered, exclusive regional power.

    After some time, the band of protestors dissolved their alliance. Yasoda nandana dasa resurfaced in Toronto, writing and preaching that the Rtvik solution was what Srila Prabhupada "ordered". Nityananda dasa from Louisiana was convinced, and invited Yasoda nandana and others to move into his rural community, which became the nucleus of the Rtvik movement. They soon published a periodical focused on promoting Rtvik-tattva, called "Vedic Village Review". Nityananda's businesses, which underwrote the expenses of the magazine and community, eventually ran into serious problems that forced the community to disband. Yasoda nandana and family relocated to California, where he still resides.

    Since that time, Yasoda nandana's Rtvik position has been adopted by many others in the movement. One of those was the renowned global traveler and preacher, British-born Kamsa hanta dasa. He embraced the cause with passionate zeal and a missionary spirit. Among Kamsa hanta's noteworthy inter-continental converts were Krsna Kanta Desai (England), Jitarati dasa (Hong Kong), Adridarana dasa (India), and Nandi kesvara dasa (Canada). In small conferences, they attempted to better organize and develop a consensus as to the finer philosophical points of the Rtvik-tattva.

    Krsna Kanta and his associates then produced a manifesto entitled the "Final Order". Interestingly, the creation of this treatise was done without soliciting input from the Rtvik founder, Sriman Yasoda nandana dasa, or any of his West Coast Rtvik group. When the "Final Order" debuted, Yasoda nandana dasa and company disagreed with many key elements of the theory. Krsna Kanta and his newly formed ISKCON Reform Movement (IRM) tried to distance themselves from the West Coast Rtviks due to the endless stream of faultfinding rhetoric the group aimed squarely at ISKCON. Krsna Kanta and company held out hope that they could convince the GBC, so long as Yasoda nandana's group was excluded. As history reveals, their efforts were thwarted by the GBC. From that time on, an increasingly contentious relationship has developed between the two main Rtvik camps."

In the case of Yasodanandana dasa, we were never able to pinpoint on the timeline exactly when his reinterpretation of the July 9th Letter took place: when did he change his understanding that the letter documented the appointment of 11 diksa gurus who would initiate their own disciples, to a new understanding that the letter appointed 11 "ritvik acaryas" who were to proxy-initiate direct disciples of Srila Prabhupada, after his disappearance?

When we recently found in our archives the 1979 paper "Challenging the Zonal Acarya System", it was included in a bundle of documents Yasodanandana had given us in the mid-90's, including his January 1979 letter to Satsvarupa, "Proposed Topics of Discussion for 1979 Mayapura Meeting". That 1979 letter was prefaced by Yasodanandana's handwritten cover page, meant to identify the document for us:

      DATED 1 JANUARY 1979





      – SEE POINTS #2 #3 4 #6 #12 #13"

While Yasodanandana dasa says in his cover note, the word diksa guru is used frequently because he never heard/saw the May 28th and July 7th conversations, in fact the 1979 Zonal Acarya challenge paper, and his January 1979 letter to Satsvarupa do far more than just use the term, "diksa guru". Both documents establish his clear understanding on the form and function of those diksa gurus.

In other words, this cover note from Yasodanandana squarely places on the timeline his adoption of Ritvik-vada philosophy, being the years 1981-1982. And more importantly, this note makes clear the evidentiary basis upon which Yasodanandana's philosophical position hangs.

His conclusion that the July 9th Letter established an instruction for post-samdhi ritvik diksa initiations was not based on the July 9th Letter itself. Just the opposite. His understanding of that letter was very clear – it was an instruction for the appointment of 11 diksa gurus who would be initiating their own direct disciples.

Which means that Yasodanandana's Ritvik-vada philosophy is really based on his interpretation of the May 28th and July 7th Room Conversations.

Clearly, the word "henceforward" in the July 9th Letter was seen to be of relatively minimal importance. What Yasodanandana understood to be important about that letter was that 11 named men would be diksa gurus, making their own diksa disciples. For Yasodanandana, "henceforward" was not yet a magic word.

The 1979 documents establish Yasodanandana's understanding of the form and function of the 11 diksa gurus. But given that his position changed when in 1981-82, he got access to the May 28th and July 7th Room Conversation tapes/transcripts, we can now go directly to those two conversations to discover the essential evidence upon which Yasodanandana's Ritvik-vada philosophy truly rests, and from which it was conflated. And we will make that the focus of our next segment.

[*] Neither Kailasa candra dasa nor Pradyumna dasa were part of the group that branched off from the early Zonal Acarya challenge group to form the Ritviks. The paragraph as originally written was poorly stated.


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